Elizabethtown: A Treasure Trove of Historical Architecture Style

By Jean-Paul Benowitz

Have you ever walked around Elizabethtown and noticed the wide variety of historic architectural styles which make up our beautiful community? At the intersection of Market and High Streets, on the Square, and nearby properties there are wonderful examples of Georgian Style architecture. This form of architectural design was prevalent in Lancaster County and particularly in Elizabethtown from the 1720s -1790s. In colonial Pennsylvania the Georgian style celebrated American prosperity by emulating British Empire design. Buildings constructed in Elizabethtown following the American Revolution were designed in the Federal Style. During the 1790s-1830s Federal style designs reflected Georgian traditions while introducing details illustrating the establishment of our Federal Republic. It is curious how builders in Elizabethtown did not embrace the Classic Revival and Greco-Roman Revival Style popular in the years 1830-1850. The nearby Donegal Mills Plantation is the only exception as well as the Lancaster County Courthouse. After the Civil War the most popular architectural style in Elizabethtown was French Second Empire. Many Georgian and Federal style properties were remodeled in this fashion and new structures were erected with turrets and mansard roofs. On the Square in Elizabethtown we see excellent examples of original Georgian, Federal, and French Second Empire architecture. A fire in 1892 destroyed the buildings on the south east corner of the Square. A new complex was built in the Victorian Italianate Style which was popular from the 1830s-1890s. Simultaneously many of the churches in Elizabethtown were enlarged and remodeled in the Victorian Gothic Revival Style of the 1890s-1930s. Two forms of residential designs were employed when building beyond the Square in Elizabethtown. Homes built in a strictly residential part of Elizabethtown were primarily designed in the Victorian Queen Anne Style. Starting with the American Centennial in 1876 this style of architecture was introduced to Elizabethtown with a combination of artistic influences from the rein of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I with undercurrents of Asian characteristics. Homes built within walking distances of factories and mills in Elizabethtown were designed in the style of Victorian Rowhouses. These were strictly utilitarian structures similar in design to neighboring factories and warehouses. Eventually when workers purchased their rowhouse, homeowners added architectural details to distinguish residences. Looking down a street or alley in Elizabethtown reveals an eclectic collection of Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival style Victorian rowhouses. In the surrounding countryside of Elizabethtown there are excellent examples of British Georgian and American Federal style farmhouses; stone structures built by early Swiss and German settlers, log and stone structures constructed in the style of Swedish, French Huguenots and Jesuits, and Scotch Irish settlers. Indeed, the core of many of the buildings in Elizabethtown are log cabins around which was built a larger structure of a later architectural style. Beginning in 1899 the campus of Elizabethtown College was mostly designed in the American Colonial Revival Style. Beginning in 1910 the campus of the Masonic Village was mostly designed in the British/French Perpendicular Gothic Style. Beginning in 1929 the campus of the Training Academy for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections was mostly designed in the Victorian Romanesque Revival Style. The economic and visual condition of Elizabethtown should be a major concern to everyone in this community. Through education, our community can increase its appreciation of the rich architectural diversity of our town, and most importantly, become aware of the possibilities of adapting historic commercial buildings to contemporary uses. In the last several decades too many of our historic structures have been altered with midcentury modern commercial storefront fa?ades inconsistent with their original architectural design. Too many important historic properties have been demolished to make room for parking lots. The very diversity of structures in Elizabethtown prove our architectural heritage is not confined to any one period or style, but rather represents a complex continuum. Architecture is the most revealing of the arts. Its forms reflect, with unique direction, the culture and history of an era. Walk around Elizabethtown and look up, above the 1950s-1970s fa?ades, look up above the street level and see the original historic architectural design of buildings and homes. ?Read? the landscape. Imagine what Elizabethtown used to look like, imagine what Elizabethtown could look like restored, imagine what Elizabethtown could be as an architecturally historically restored community with a vibrant local economy supported by residents living in historically preserved private residences, imagine new construction in Elizabethtown designed to complement its beautiful historic architectural styles. Instead of only imagining all of this, let us join together, citizens proud of Elizabethtown, and make this community stronger than ever. Jean-Paul Benowitz is a Historian and Director of Student Transition Programs at Elizabethtown College